The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded UCLA $2 million to support "The Urban Turn: Collective Life in Megacities of the Pacific Rim." The three-and-a-half year project will build connections between architecture, urban studies and the humanities, engaging faculty and students from across the campus in the study of contemporary issues in four of the world's most complex cities — Los Angeles, Tokyo, Shanghai and Mexico City.
The project will also support collaboration with UC Berkeley, where the Mellon Foundation has funded a similar initiative. This is the first grant of its size designed to bridge the disciplines of humanities and design.
This gift will establish UCLA as an international research hub where collaborations between design and the humanities lead to a new understanding of megacities. "The Urban Turn" suggests the ever-greater extent to which our cities are shaped by and experienced as dynamic, culturally diverse and networked space.
By studying these issues in four different cities, UCLA will create the scholarly research and pedagogical context for a new cross-disciplinary field called urban humanities.
"There's no better place to undertake this project than Los Angeles," said UCLA's Dana Cuff, who will lead the effort. "Our own megacity exists in the public imagination through film, literature, TV and innovative design practices."
The cross-pollination between design and the humanities will not only enrich academic pursuits but build new ways to address the pressing problems cities face today.
"The built environment inherently lends itself to research and teaching in the humanities," said Mellon Foundation Vice President Mariët Westermann. "Our new urban realities pose problems and possibilities that require interdisciplinary research. Collaborative initiatives at the intersection of the humanities and architecture, at UCLA, UC Berkeley and other research universities, can bring vital understanding and new solutions."
For the first time in human history, in the 21st century, more than half the world's population lives in cities. For "The Urban Turn," collaboration among scholars and students in the humanities and environmental design will enable an understanding of the nuances and problems that characterize today's megacities. From Los Angeles to Shanghai, studios and seminars will address what it means to live our daily lives in close proximity to one another in the evolving metropolis.
"The interdisciplinary nature of this project is particularly noteworthy and representative of the innovative scholarship in the humanities that thrives at UCLA," said Scott Waugh, UCLA's executive vice chancellor and provost. "We are truly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for the opportunity to launch this remarkable initiative and for the new perspectives that it will introduce to our humanities programs across campus."
Over the next three-and-a-half years, interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students will collaborate in a combination of summer institutes, studios, workshops, seminars and symposia. Cuff, a professor of architecture and urban design and director of cityLAB at UCLA, is joined in the project's leadership by Diane Favro, a UCLA professor of architecture and urban design; Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and associate dean of UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs; and Todd Presner, a professor of Germanic languages and comparative literature and chair of the UCLA Digital Humanities Program.
"The complexity of megacities calls for new intellectual and practical alliances between design and the humanities and for the advanced tools that each brings to bear on its objects of investigation," Cuff said. "What we can learn from the world's megacities will prove to be infinitely valuable as we look toward our collective urban future."
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants in the areas of higher education and scholarship; diversity initiatives; scholarly communications and information technology; art history, conservation and museums; performing arts; and conservation and the environment. The Mellon Foundation has been a long-standing benefactor to UCLA, supporting, in addition to this gift, a wide array of university initiatives.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and six faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.